The researchers had to battle rough seas in a dinghy.

The rocky road to research

13 December 2012

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The Development Policy Centre is a think tank for aid and development policy based at the Crawford School. The centre researches and promotes discussion of aid effectiveness, the Pacific and PNG, and development policy.

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Battling rough high seas in a dinghy, incurring the wrath of village sorcerers and making school teachers flee in fear – the path to research can be much more than trawling through books.

Survey teams for the PNG Promoting Effective Public Expenditure Project – a joint project between that country’s National Research Institute and the Development Policy Centre at Crawford School – have returned from conducting expenditure tracking and facility surveys in PNG with a sensational story to tell.

Writing on Dev Policy Blog, Program Manager and ANU PhD scholar Colin Wiltshire says that conducting the survey – which covers about 200 schools and 150 health facilities in far-flung corners of PNG has been an interesting research experience.

Wiltshire led a team conducting the survey in PNG’s Gulf Province – most of which is only accessible by the open ocean.

“Travelling to Kikori District – the largest of the region’s two districts – is very difficult. The only option is to hire a dinghy with an outboard motor to travel in the open sea, which takes a day and over 100 litres of fuel, making the trip expensive, exhausting and often dangerous,” he writes.

Indeed, just before the team arrived the locals had experienced a tragedy at sea.

“At least five people had gone missing trying to transport themselves together with a live deer and a cassowary,” said Wiltshire. “An ambitious journey, especially considering the cargo on board.”

Everywhere the survey team went, they saw schools or health facilities that were struggling through lack of resources, or lack of staff. But at one school visit the lack of funding was not the issue, as Wiltshire explains.

“As our Land Cruiser – which looked a lot like a police vehicle – approached the village, a group of people rushed to the shore and set off into the sea.

“At the same time, disgruntled parents ran to the car yelling that the Head Teacher and School Board Chairman were escaping, and demanding the team chase them down and arrest them!

“After explaining that we were not the police, we learnt that there was a rumour that the police were coming to arrest the Head Teacher and the School Board Chairman who had supposedly been misusing the school’s funding.”

But that wasn’t the end of the team’s adventures. When they went to leave the more remote Kikori District survey areas, wild weather – and the possible influence of villagers – left them land-locked.

“Our return trip proved challenging. The prospect of rougher seas saw us use the river channels, but finally needing to confront the open ocean we made an attempt to make it to the break but were swamped by waves, requiring us to bail water out of the dinghy and race back to shore.

“During the evening, we were told village sorcerers were unhappy and casting spells into the sea to make it rough, because they are short of sugar and tea.”

The following day, after making an offering to the sorcerers, the oceans calmed a little and the team was able to leave. And although they went with some dramatic memories, it is the experience of seeing people step up and fill gaps where services should be provided that left the most lasting impression.

“The survey team met a head teacher at a remote school who teaches all classes at her primary school and has volunteered to be the community health worker,” writes Wiltshire.

“This selfless teacher operates a health service out her house, providing basic drugs and advice for sick people in her village.

“There were many inspiring examples of retired and retrenched teachers and health workers that continue to help communities when no other services are provided.”




You can read the full Dev Policy Blog post here:

To find out more about the PNG Promoting Effective Public Expenditure Project:

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